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Associate Justice David Souter

The Doubter

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"It is much easier to modify an opinion if one has not already persuasively declared it."
Associate Justice David Souter

Associate Justice David Souter

Image Courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court
When Justice Souter was nominated, many viewed him as a traditional conservative. Sometimes he is. Today, he's often regarded as the most liberal justice on the bench. Sometimes he's that, too. The truth is that he is still as much of a "stealth candidate" as he was in 1990--thoughtful, complex, and completely independent.

Vital Statistics


66 years old. Graduated from Harvard College (magna cum laude, 1961), then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar (A.B. and M.A., 1963) before earning his law degree from Harvard Law School (1966). Episcopalian. Lifelong bachelor.

Career Background


1966-1968: Associate counsel at Orr & Reno in Concord, New Hampshire.

1968-1971: Assistant Attorney General (Criminal Division) for the State of New Hampshire.

1971-1976: Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Hampshire.

1976-1978: Attorney General for the State of New Hampshire.

1978-1983: Associate Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court.

1983-1990: Associate Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

1990: Associate Justice of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nomination and Approval


In July 1990, President George Bush nominated Souter to replace the retiring Associate Justice William J. Brennan. Although the press referred to him as a "stealth justice" because of his relative silence on hot-button issues, he breezed through the Senate confirmation process (90-9).

Landmark Cases


Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002): Wrote a fierce dissent arguing that school voucher programs violate the First Amendment's establishment clause.

MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster (2005): Wrote a unanimous 9-0 ruling stating that peer-to-peer Internet file databases that profit from distribution of copyrighted materials can be sued for copyright infringement.

Kelo v. City of New London (2005): Joined a 5-4 majority ruling which stated that cities may condemn privately-owned real estate as part of a redevelopment plan under eminent domain, with "just compensation" given under the Fifth Amendment. Although Justice Stevens wrote the unpopular ruling, Souter was targeted in a special way by officials in his hometown of Weare, New Hampshire, who attempted to claim his family home under eminent domain and turn it into a "Lost Liberty Hotel." The proposal, which in any case clearly exceeded the boundaries set under Kelo and never would have passed constitutional muster, was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin in a March 2006 ballot initiative.

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